Work on new India-Bangladesh rail line to start this year

Agartala, July 5 (IANS) Work on a new rail link between India and Bangladesh along Tripura to ease surface transport in the mountainous northeastern states would start this year, officials of the two countries said here Friday.

India will build a 15-km railway track linking Tripura capital Agartala with Bangladesh's southeastern city of Akhaurah, which is also an important railway junction connected to Chittagong port, resource-rich Sylhet and Dhaka.

"Necessary survey and alignment of the railway tracks have been completed. Bangladesh's Planning Commission's approval is awaited. We expect the work for the vital railway line would start this year-end," Bangladesh's Brahmanbaria district's Deputy Commissioner Nur Mohammad Majumder told reporters.

After a two-day meeting with the Indian officials, Majumder said: "Land acquisition works are on and necessary tenders for the works would soon be floated."

West Tripura District Magistrate Kiran Gitte, who led the Indian side in the meeting, said that works, including survey and alignment of the railway line, have been completed.

An agreement for the new railway line was signed between Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Bangladeshi counterpart Sheikh Hasina during her visit to India in January 2010.

"Total cost of the proposed project is estimated at Rs.252 crore. The Indian Railway Construction Company (IRCON) would lay the new railway tracks on both sides of the border," an official of the Northeast Frontier Railways (NFR) told reporters.

In the last railway budget of the Indian government, the allocation of some funds was sanctioned for the 15-km railway project. Of the 15-km rail line, five km of track falls in the Indian territory and the remaining is in Bangladesh.

The NFR official said: "With the establishment of the new railway link, northeast India would be connected to the Chittagong international sea port by rail."

Agartala is one of the newest stations of the Indian Railways, and came up on the country's rail map in October 2008.

Surface connectivity is an important factor as the landlocked northeastern states are surrounded by Bangladesh, Myanmar, Bhutan and China and the only land route to these states from within India is through Assam and West Bengal. But this route passes through over 70 percent hilly terrain with steep roads and multiple hairpin bends.

For ferrying goods and heavy machinery to the northeast from abroad and other parts of the country, India has for long been seeking land, sea and rail access through Bangladesh.

Agartala, for instance, is 1,650 km from Kolkata and 2,637 km from New Delhi via Guwahati and West Bengal, whereas the distance between the Tripura capital and Kolkata through Bangladesh is just about 350 km.

The NFR is now laying tracks to connect Tripura's southern most border town Sabroom, 135 km south of here. From Sabroom, the Chittagong international sea port is just 72 km.

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